Tag Archives: Hammer Girl

The Best Fight Choreography of 2014

John Wick Keanu

by Vanessa Tottle & Gabriel Valdez

You know what fight choreography is, we know what fight choreography is. Let’s just dive right in.

Oh, and we should warn you that unlike our other Best of 2014 articles, since fight scenes usually involve a big reveal or someone’s death:

THE MOVIE CLIPS IN THIS ARTICLE CONTAIN SPOILERS.

They won’t play without you clicking on them, but just be aware of the above if you do.

3. CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER

Chris Carnel, fight coordinator
James Young, fight choreographer

This has stunts and fight choreography across the board – car chases (although the more outlandish stuff is CG), knife fights, wire-assists – you name it, it was in the Captain America sequel.

It was a really good year for practical choreography on film, and Captain America includes much more practical work than any other Marvel film. That blending also requires a great deal of creativity on the part of the stunt and fight coordinators, who wanted something less cartoonish and more immediate and brutal.

(Read the review)

2. JOHN WICK

Jonathan Eusebio, Jon Valera, fight coordinators

Are you going to eat those mashed potatoes?

No, I’m saving them for later.

This is the attitude that permeates the creative fight choreography of John Wick. Gun fu has been around for a while, but what Keanu Reeves practices is closer to gun jutsu. He controls the nearest threat with his body, saving him for later, and deals with the furthest one or two or three. It’s completely counter-intuitive and could only work in movies, but it is downright beautiful to watch.

It completely undermines your expectations of how a fight’s going to proceed and using Keanu Reeves as its dancer, John Wick gives us martial arts movements according to a ballet philosophy.

The clip above is the conclusion to a sequence that sees Reeves fight his way through several floors of a club. Each floor has its own dance music, and the pace of the choreography changes according to each genre – slowed down and deliberate in the new age spa, frenzied and tense on the dubstep dance floor.

It’s exceptionally clever, and that’s even before mentioning the fight between Reeves and Adrianne Palicki a few scenes later, which begins like a dance and ends like a brawl.

(Read the review)

1. THE RAID 2

Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, fight choreographers

Here is one of the most overlooked movies of 2014, a martial arts film that you could take every action scene out of and still be left with a compelling gang drama. And yet, those action scenes are some of the best ever filmed.

Director Gareth Evans leaves the fight scenes to his choreographers, who also play a lead and supporting character, but he still insists on using long takes that hit certain marks. The fight scenes to him are opportunities to communicate emotion in a way that’s removed from traditional storytelling. They’re filled with visual beats that lay their characters raw in a way that’s shielded during dramatic scenes.

In this clip, for instance, we already know that Hammer Girl is deaf, but when her sunglasses are knocked from her face, it’s revealed that she only has one eye. We stay on this for only a split-second, nothing is mentioned, and the fight doesn’t stop. It’s a heart-wrenching realization that suggests a whole other film’s worth of story, told in a moment, and that turns the end of a henchwoman from one character’s triumph into another’s tragedy.

This is how the film constantly communicates an anti-violence message through some of the most brutal fight choreography ever put in a movie. That’s not to say The Raid 2 doesn’t like cinematic violence. To the contrary, it basks in it, but it uses this to create a message about real-world violence and corruption in Indonesian politics.

We could talk about Iko Uwais’s tight body control and efficient movement, Yayan Ruhian’s loose, wildly animalistic performance, and how every character in the film fights completely differently, but in the end, Evans uses the choreography not as an attraction, but as one more storytelling tool to convey emotion and fill the world of his story in with detail. It has fight scenes that will make you cry. How many films can say that?

What makes the fight choreography in The Raid 2 special isn’t just the insane technical level required of the performers, it’s that the choreography itself tells vignettes inside the bigger story. The narrative doesn’t stop while we watch the fighting. As in dance, the story condenses and intensifies.

We’re always talking about how filmmakers need to invent new “cinematic language” for technical elements on film. The Raid 2 invents brand new language for fight scenes and how they can be used. It’s a rare instance when a film does that this successfully.

(Read the review)

In the lead-up to the Oscars, we’ve named several Best of 2014 Awards, with a special focus on categories the Oscars don’t include:

The Best Stuntwork of 2014

The Best 3-D of 2014

The Best Diversity of 2014

The Best Original Score of 2014

The Best Soundtrack of 2014

The Most Thankless Role of 2014

Martial Arts, Gangster, and Action Movie in One — “The Raid 2”

Raid 2 Hammer Girl

If Stanley Kubrick were to have directed a martial arts movie, you might get something like The Raid 2. It’s an Indonesian movie by a Welsh director, sequel to 2011 surprise hit The Raid: Redemption. It’s OK if you haven’t seen the first – it’s like seeing the second Godfather without seeing the first. The two build on each other, but they’re each their own animal.

The first Raid followed an Indonesian SWAT team’s assault on a drug lord’s tenement building. It was brimming with enough gunplay, explosions, and martial arts to put it alongside Raiders of the Lost Ark and Die Hard as one of the best action movies ever filmed.

The second Raid follows the first movie’s hero, Rama (Iko Uwais). It is an incredible action movie, but it’s an even better gangster thriller. Rama is convinced to go undercover, get arrested, and befriend the incarcerated son of a Japanese gangster who owns half of the capital Jakarta. Needless to say, few things go as planned. Rama begins discovering that being an undercover officer doesn’t mean he’s a wrench in the gangster’s works. He’s merely additional leverage in the business relationship between the gangs and Jakarta’s police.

The Raid 2 field

There are a range of decisions that make the fight scenes some of the most effective ever put to screen. Director Gareth Evans builds his film using old-fashioned suspense techniques, and his martial arts scenes – using the Indonesian style Silat – are more than just impressive choreographic sequences. He makes every fight a plot point, communicating through action the kind of relationships and character history other films explain in dialogue.

Evans shoots in long, unbroken takes, not unlike Alfonso Cuaron (Gravity, Children of Men). Where Cuaron’s style reflects a character’s perspective, Evans’s style anticipates a characters intent. It can be hard to communicate how someone thinks in a fight – martial artists train to slow down a situation in their heads, so a response is entirely mental. The physical action that follows is just muscle memory. You learn to plan several moves ahead. It’s incredibly difficult to translate this in a full-speed action movie to a movie theater full of people, but Evans’s approach comes the closest. It offers a unique glimpse into the strategy martial artists employ, which allows you not just to marvel at the athleticism on display, but to understand the chess match that goes on behind a fight.

The Raid 2 prison

These longer takes demand incredible feats from choreographers and actors alike. The more complicated the stunts – as in an early prison riot in a mud pit – the longer his shots are likely to be. There are unbroken fight sequences that made my jaw drop at their audacity and ambition.

No matter how easily a character might be described – Hammer Girl (Julie Estelle) is deaf and uses hammers as weapons, for instance – Evans always reveals a visual detail or line of dialogue that gives us a brief window into each henchman’s soul. It transforms characters who would be one-note villains in other films into complex figures. When Rama defeats a henchman, his own moment of heroic triumph also feels like the tragic ending to somebody else’s story.

This is how a martial arts movie laden with fight scenes speaks against violence, and this is one of the most violent movies you’ll ever see. The fight choreography may be impressive, but time and again it communicates mutually assured destruction and the toll such violence takes not just on the body, but the soul as well.

The Raid 2 chess match

A vignette in the middle of the film, during which we break away from Rama, tells the story of Prakoso (Yayan Ruhian). He is a lifelong assassin who lives on the street and gives all his earnings to his estranged wife and child. His story is a heartbreaking half-hour that could stand as its own short film, culminates in an incredible fight scene, and serves as the keystone to the rest of the plot.

Prakoso’s story is also an opportunity to condense one of The Raid 2‘s underlying themes: the plight of the everyday laborer. This is the 95% of everyone – American, Indonesian, Japanese, whoever they might be – who just try to live their lives well, go to work, and do right by their families. Prakoso is an assassin, but these others are not, and they occur in scene after scene, constantly apologizing to gangsters for not groveling well enough or serving them fast enough. It’s a bitter message from a country rife with organized gangs peddling drugs, sex, and violence. It’s obviously important for the makers of The Raid 2 to communicate to the rest of the world – and to their own citizens – that crime and corruption may be what they endure, but it’s not what defines who they are as a country or a people.

This is an exciting action movie, an accomplished martial arts film, and an epic, intelligent gangster tale with a lot to say. There are treats in here for aficionados of any of those genres, and I haven’t even hit on how beautifully The Raid 2 is filmed, or how lush its design is. Be aware this is an exceptionally hard-R rated movie for its violence and a moment of sexuality.

The Raid 2 heartbreak